March 10, 2009

Daddy, Where Do Agencies Come From?

Filed under: Operations — Joe Grant @ 5:28 pm


breese0010I was thinking the other day about the names of ad agencies. Though there seems to be a trend lately to manufacture a name out of the blue, most are eponymous – named for the individuals who started them. They probably worked someplace else before growing discontented enough to do their own thing.

Kids, this is where baby agencies come from. From the dissatisfied, the misfits, the risk takers, and occasionally from those involuntarily thrown into the cold.

2009 should be a remarkable year for incubating new agencies. As clients disappear, headcounts shrink, and some shops shutter altogether there’ll be a lot of energy on the street looking for ways to feed their families. Necessity will once again become the Big Mother.

It takes a special type of person to start an ad agency. You have to be a little crazy, very creative, have an excess of courage just short of foolhardiness, and more than anything totally believe that your way will work. Call it passion, zeal, obsession – I think we’re going to see a lot of that kind of thing emerging this year and next, and it’s all good.

Look what that guy Burnett did. The story goes that after toiling at a lost-to-history ad shop for about 7 years he decided to start his own agency in perilous times not unlike ours today. A Chicago newspaper columnist predicted he’d fail miserably because he struck out on his own in the middle of the Great Depression in ‘35, and he’d soon be on the street selling apples.

When Leo Burnett heard that he vowed to give away apples and to this day there’s a bowl of shiny red apples on every Burnett reception desk.

Is it possible that one of the people about to be pink-slipped out the door at your agency is the next Leo Burnett?

So I was thinking. . .

What if you gathered 3 or 4 of the most vocal dissatisfied people in your agency for a little brainstorm about this: What would we do to improve this agency and the work for our clients if we were in charge?

Now wouldn’t that be an interesting conversation. Remember, in a good brainstorm no idea is too outlandish and no idea goes unheard. It’s about quantity, not quality.

I suppose if you’re the boss reading this you might be reaching for the Pepcids about now. Or maybe you’re concerned your presence in such a gloves-off cluster would only engender an outbreak of butt licking. Then have them go off and do it without you.

CAUTION: this will do more damage than good if you don’t take it to the next step, i.e. let this little fired up group of visionaries have the reins for a while to make the changes they see as essential.

Come on, what have you got to lose? Your band of rebels – remember, there may be a Leo in the group – might as well hatch their fresh ideas in your nest before they head down the street and become a competitor. Our business, you remember, is predicated on dreaming up unconventional solutions, and when agencies stop trying new stuff, that’s when they atrophy and croak.

Alright, I suppose this scenario is not likely to happen, but it sure is fun to think about. And it’s what some people are thinking about right now as they get frustrated trying to manipulate, cajole, coax, and subvert things trying to make where they currently work better.

It’s individuals who go off and start their own agencies. . . and it’s individuals who can change how things work right where they are. Why not let them?

Hey, pass me one of those apples, will ya’?

Your 2 Cents

Who’s had the guts to try something like this? Did it work? How did you deal with the established executive hierarchy? Please share your ideas.


Want these articles delivered FREE directly to your computer?

Just subscribe using an RSS feed reader or by email.


1 Comment »

  1. Outstanding, Joe! We need to remember that all progress stems from dissatisfaction. Or as Charles Kettering put it, “Just about the time you’re satisfied with what you’ve got, the concrete has begin to set in your head.”

    Best — Sherry Christie

    Comment by Sherry Christie — March 10, 2009 @ 8:29 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: